29 June 2020

LEGO® Element Design: Interview with Karsten Juel Bunch, Part 2 – fans' questions

Posted by Admin
Yesterday we published our in-depth interview with LEGO® Design Director of the Element Design Platform, Karsten Juel Bunch, who explained the special role his team take and ran through an example: the redevelopment of the large shooter element and arrow. Today we just round off the chat with a few questions that were posed by the New Elementary team and our supporters on Patreon.

©2020 The LEGO Group

Is it harder to keep some of the new elements in System, particularly if they relate to a IP [intellectual property, such as licensed sets]? 

Karsten: We take this decision consciously up front; do we want to do what I call a 'healthy' element or do we just want to support this this IP by doing something that caters only to the story? Because there's a balance, right? You can't have everything being like really universal and generic. You need special things in there as well. They have a huge value.

Does that decision affect production as well?

Karsten: Yes it does. So if we make a special thing, then we make the setup so that maybe this element will exit [production] faster than if it's something that we think that's more ‘healthy'.

It feels like there has been a big increase in the number of new elements being produced in the last few years. Is that true?

Karsten: I think it's your perception. You've seen maybe more complex things coming out like play starter elements and stuff like that, so yes, we have done more of these highly complex elements.

Often when a new element gets revealed we get comments like "oh, Mega Bloks did that years ago, you know LEGO are just copying..." is that ever true? Or have you got a secret drawer full of every possible element ever thought of?

Karsten: Yes, we have a secret drawer of every element ever. And we do keep a lot of pictures, and register a lot, so we have this whole process of filing everything for Legal. And we do that, like, constantly. To my recollection, no one has ever proved that we've done something later than them because usually I can find a picture or a drawing that's years older than what they are claiming.

Interesting. You ran an idea-generating workshop with fans at Skaerbaek, is there anything that was generated from that workshop that has progressed, that the community might like to hear about?

Karsten: Nothing I could disclose!

There was a 3D-printed element included in a LEGO set for the first time in the 2019 Inside Tour set, representing an old-fashioned drawing machine. Could more 3D-printed elements appear in the future, maybe just in sets with limited release?

Karsten: Maybe. It's no secret that LEGO did take a big leap into this kind of technology. So, if it ends up being elements, or just something that is used for prototype development... yeah, let’s see. But that element, the drawing machine, that was something that was done in the design team that I work in. We handle new production technologies; that falls in the 'complex' category! Getting a connector approved for that took a lot of testing, a lot of iterations.

It had a different connector?

Karsten: It's a 3.2mm shaft.

Okay, a regular bar... so was it because it was a new material and process, it needed stronger testing?

Karsten: Well, how do you actually print something in 3D, which is based on layers, that gives you the... not the measurement; I'm after the play functionality. Because how do you measure that? So we try to define what the play functionality should be, and how do we then deliver that in a new material in new production. It's easy to make it very complex!

What would be the trickiest part that you've developed?

Karsten: Personally? That is the Gatling gun from Bionicle, a six shooter gun. That was crazy.

What made it so difficult?

Karsten: The whole functionality of the parts, I think the process of doing it was amazing. Seeing the machine in production, with the whole spring roller and everything, was just amazing. I did it together with a really cool part designer, and we just really wanted this to happen so we just put in a lot of hours and made it happen. That was just crazy. I did a lot of shooters back in the day! So I also did a lot of shooters that didn't work as well. Sorry for ever doing the squid shooter [Design ID 57556 from 2007 Bionicle sets]… I could tell you stories.

If only we had time, I'm just aware we're at the end of our allotted half-hour, thank you so much Karsten.

Karsten: Great. We love your blog.

Great to hear, that makes our day!

Our thanks to Karsten and the AFOLET department for providing this interview. Help New Elementary keep publishing articles like this. Become a Patron!

Massive thanks go to our 'Vibrant Coral' patrons: Iain Adams, Andy Price, Anthony Wright, Geppy, Chris Cook, London AFOLs, Gerald Lasser, Big B Bricks, Dave Schefcik, David and Breda Fennell, Huw Millington, Neil Crosby, Antonio Serra, Beyond the Brick, Sue Ann Barber & Trevor Clark, and Kevin Gascoigne. You're awesome!

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  1. What is the"switch shooter"?

    1. I assume he is referring to the "Projectile Launcher 2 x 4 with 5 Studs, Axle Hole and Pin Launching Lever" (https://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?P=61185c01&idColor=85#T=S&C=85&O={%22color%22:85,%22iconly%22:0}) and accompanying pin (https://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?P=61680&idColor=86#T=S&C=86&O={%22color%22:86,%22iconly%22:0}), which was pretty notorious for not working well, if at all. I wonder if he has anything to say about the squid shooter, which came out at the same time as the amazing gatling gun cordak blaster (and was... less than amazing itself).

      Thanks for conducting this interview, NE! It was really great to have an insight into part development.

    2. I like the squids, themselves, though. Interesting part for adding some creepyness to your MOC...

    3. Karsten got in touch to confirm, the 'switch shooter' is indeed the Bionicle squid shooter 57556.